Sunday, November 29, 2020

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Three New Cases of COVID in R4 as Cases Climb in Connecticut

As students in the Regional 4 (R4) school district started full in-person learning on Oct. 13, three new positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed later in the week.

The first case, a student in the upper grades, necessitated quarantines and a move to remote learning for middle and high school students. The other two cases, one at Chester Elementary School and one at Essex Elementary School, did not impact other students or operations.

Students at John Winthrop Middle School and Valley Regional High School moved to a day of full remote learning last week on Oct. 14, due to a positive case of COVID-19.

The student, a resident of Essex, rode the bus to school with students from the middle and high schools on Oct. 13 and attended school briefly before feeling ill and being sent home. A positive COVID-19 test result was received that night.

“It was late at night and they couldn’t do the contact tracing and investigation analysis that they needed to do before school started and the buses rolled this morning,” said Chester First Selectman Lauren Gister at an Oct. 14 Board of Selectmen meeting. “So, that’s why they went remote for the day.”

The Essex Health Department and the Connecticut River Area Health District (CRAHD) worked to identify close contacts of the case, defined as those individuals who had spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of the student.

As a result of their investigation, 15 individuals were asked to quarantine, according to Essex Health Director Lisa Fasulo. The middle and high schools returned to full in-person learning the following day, on Oct. 15.

On Oct. 16, the school community was notified that a student enrolled at Chester Elementary School and a student enrolled at Essex Elementary School had received positive COVID test results. Both elementary school students had not attended school since Oct. 9, so it was determined by the local health authorities that there was no impact to other students or building operations.

These cases bring the district’s cumulative total of positive COVID tests to six. They follow the district’s move to full in-person classes, after starting the school year in a hybrid learning model. Unlike during the hybrid model, students are now no longer grouped in cohorts when they ride the school bus nor when they attend school.

The R4 district is one of more than a third of the K through 8 schools in the state offering a full in-person model of learning for students.

“We’ve gone from about 33 to 40 percent of our K through 8 schools that are now open on a full-time basis,” said Governor Ned Lamont at his Oct. 15 press briefing.

The R4 school district follows public health metrics when deciding which mode of learning to employ. The leading indicator is new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 individuals, of which there was 7.5 per 100,000 people in Middlesex County as of Oct. 15, according to data published on CRAHD’s website www.crahd.org.

Other indicators such as test percent positivity rate were also in the low range for Middlesex County, at 0.9 percent.

Other counties, such as neighboring New London County, have increased rates of infection, as does Connecticut overall.

As of Oct. 15, New London County had 26.5 new daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 individuals, which was the highest out of all counties in the state. New London County’s test percent positivity rate as of Oct. 15, at 2.6 percent, was the second-highest in the state.

The state has been monitoring daily cases per 100,000 on a municipal level, categorizing them into different alert levels, with yellow for towns with 5 to 9 new daily cases per 100,000, orange for towns with 10 to 14 new daily cases per 100,000, and red for towns with more than 15 new daily cases per 100,000.

The colors signify specific state recommendations to municipalities that could help stop spread of the virus.

“These are things the towns can do to try and mitigate the spread, to contain the spread, as we see flare ups around the state and even bigger around the entire region…We do have areas that have 5, 6, 7 percent infection rates and there we want to try to contain that as best we can,” Lamont said.

On Oct. 15, Chester, Deep River, and Essex had fewer than five cases daily per 100,000, which is the lowest town alert level, signified by the color gray.

Many of the 11 towns in the highest, red alert category were in Southeastern Connecticut. They included Canterbury, Danbury, East Lyme, Griswold, Hartford, Montville, Norwich, New London, Preston, Sprague, and Windham.

“We know that it can have some regional spread,” said Lamont. “That’s another thing that we’re following very carefully.”

Lamont’s Executive Order No. 9G, which took effect Oct. 15, allows municipalities to have the authority to revert to phase two of the state’s reopening plan, which restricts size and capacity limits.

As of Oct. 14, the State’s Department of Public Health reported a total of 60 cases of COVID-19 in Chester, 25 total cases in Deep River, and 60 total cases in Essex.


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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